Selfridges bag

Shoppers in London, Britain - 20 Jan 2012

This is good design. The bags are serviceable — you get your stuff home without worrying whether the bottom of the bag will collapse and open. The colour, Pantone 109 yellow, stands out on the crowd. You can see someone who been shopping at Selfridges from a block away on a crowded London street. (Either they have been shopping there or they are craftily wanting you to think they have been shopping there and making use of the iconic bag while they do their retailing at lesser stores.) But most of all, they bag is designed to do what a shopping bag should do: announce loudly the name of the store to everyone within eyeshot. The colour does most of the attracting, and the restrained typeface (derived from Franklin Gothic) in contrasting black says that this store is classy and hip.

I cannot say that I go shopping in Selfridges just to get a shopping bag, but if I am equidistant between Selfridges and an equivalent store, I’ll head to where I get a yellow bag.

Linn Sondek LP12

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The Linn Sondek LP12 is perhaps the strangest example of a design exemplar. It first appeared in 1972, and looks pretty much the same today as it did then. It is functional, but I cannot really say it is beautiful. But that is not the point. It was at the time, and still is after 42 years, arguably the best sound-reproducing device on the planet. Yes, it plays vinyl records, and if you hear a Linn coupled to a half-decent hi-fi system, you will agree with me that it eclipses CDs and most downloadable forms of music in reproducing the music in the way that the original recording intended.

The Linn philosophy has it that the most important part of the music reproduction chain is that which is closest to the source. Thus it is the turntable — not the stylus, not the cartridge, not the tonearm, not the amplifier and certainly not the speakers — that make the most difference to the final sound. So Linn built a turntable that is very close to perfect.

Now, here’s the thing: if you buy a Linn today, you probably won’t buy a stock-standard Linn. Not because your dealer is cheating you, but because after four decades, other improvisers have come along with their own components for the Linn, and you may well decide that you like the sound of an alternative power supply, or someone else’s sub-chassis. No, I am not making this up; these things actually make a sonic difference.

You can also make aesthetic changes to the Linn. An American woodcrafter, Chris Harbarn, makes stunningly beautiful plinths for the Linn in various exotic woods. Some of these actually enhance the sound quality of the reproduction. No, I am not making this up.

So why do I think the Linn Sondek LP12 is an example of good design? Because the original design is still intact; the original design philosophy survives longer than most devices (do you think you will be using an iPhone in 40 year’s time?) but along the way others have been able to enhance and modify the experience to make, in the opinion of your humble blogger, the best device for reproducing recorded music. If you have never heard a Linn, find a dealer and beg for an audition.

Blue Jeans

blue jeansOne of the most iconic items we have, and an example of wonderful design, are blue jeans. The colour is pleasing, the fabric (denim) is long-lasting enough to make jeans economical, they age gracefully (unlike some of the people who wear them), they are casual enough for many situations. They can be partnered with suitable tops to make them acceptable at times when more formality is required.

Jeans were invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873. The story is that Davis approached Strauss with a view to making trousers from Strauss’s blue denim; the trousers were to have brass rivets to reinforce the pockets and other points of stress. Their intention was to make trousers for working men that were sturdy enough and hard wearing enough to attract lower-paid factory workers. However, when James Dean wore jeans in the 1950s movie “Rebel Without a Cause”, young people started wearing them in defiance of their parents’ fashions (and sometimes the parent’s wishes).

Today, it is almost impossible to go anywhere and not see people wearing jeans. The chances are that you are wearing jeans as you read this; your humble blogger is wearing Levis as he types this.

Why are jeans so popular? Partly the utility of the garment – long wearing and robust – but mainly this is a garment design that is flexible enough to be acceptable in almost all circumstances. If your jeans are clean, you can wear them anywhere. They have stood the test of time – 140 years – and this makes them a design to be admired.